Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance

Bonhoeffer writes in his Cost of Discipleship:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

This week, Pastor Mark Driscoll published on Mars Hill Church’s website a public 30 minute video on what he calls a season of learning in his life during which he is sorrowful and lamenting. Since he made this video public beyond his own church membership and many people are discussing it, even affirming it, I feel a strong need to address it. Because what Pastor Mark does in this video is one of the clearest examples I’ve ever seen of what the Apostle Paul calls “worldly sorrow.”

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.

When it comes to our personal responses to our own sin, these are the only two options. When faced with confrontation or other natural consequences of your sin, you can mourn your sin in a way that leads you to confess to God, change your direction, and repair with those you have hurt. And that response allows you to get up and go forward without regret. I’ve never once in my life met someone who REGRETTED bringing their sin into the light, confessing it honestly, and repairing with those they had wronged. Godly sorrow producing repentance is beautiful.

The second option when faced with painful consequences of your sin is worldly sorrow, grief and lament in response to the consequences of one’s sin that does not understand and appropriate Christ’s payment for it. Pastor Mark is not the first person who can (over)use Jesus’ name in proper context who does not appropriate how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection speaks into the consequences of sin he is now facing at Mars Hill. Such people often want forgiveness. They want grace extended to them. And, in Christ, there is no condemnation according to Romans 8:1! Yet, the same Paul who wrote Romans 8:1 instructs us in Ephesians 5 to bring our sin into the light, because the light of Christ is a disinfectant. Expose the sin. Own the sin. Not to bring shame and condemnation but to bring restoration and healing! Any hope of “forgiveness” without clear, specific repentance is exactly what Bonhoeffer labels cheap grace. It’s continuing in sin that grace may abound, to which Paul says, “God forbid!”

The indication for any one of us of godly verses worldly sorrow is summed up in one word – repentance. True repentance always starts with a specific naming of your sin, and it always includes a change in your ways. I love the definition of the Greek word for repent according to Strong – “to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” Godly sorrow that produces repentance will include statements along these lines – “I sinned against God and (name redacted). I have asked their forgiveness and am seeking to repair with them in the ways that I can. I am taking these steps to guard myself from doing the same in the future.” It always comes with a hearty desire to amend your ways with an abhorrence for how you sinned against God and others in the past.

I am writing this post because it is of utmost importance that people (believing and unbelieving) hearing Jesus’ name understand the difference in worldly and godly sorrow. I am very grieved that Mars Hill Church uses the name of Jesus over and over in their materials (even linking to this latest video with the url jesus.to), yet the lead pastor models a worldly sorrow without repentance that Paul says leads to death. It is irresponsible (for those of us who know these things from first hand experience and are in a position to address them) to turn away as Jesus’ name is used in empty, cheap ways. Thankfully, in this area, many of God’s children are rising up to confront these things privately as well as publicly. This is good for the Church.

Long before Pastor Mark released this week’s video, I wrote about godly verses worldly sorrow in The Gospel-Centered Woman. I felt that many women, myself included, often linger in this sorrowful place over our sin without understanding how repentance in the shadow of the cross heals and repairs. I’ll close with these thoughts from the book.

Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed. 

In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt. 

Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.

25 Responses to Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance

  1. Anna Vroon July 22, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    Wendy, I love your insight in this subject of godly sorrow vs worldly sorrow. I can recognise it in my own life and seeing it more clearly has helped to transform how I relate to Christ and others. I spent years of my life just feeling bad about what I had done, and powerless to make it right. Coming to understand the depths of Gods grace and forgiveness has been key to feeling able to come and find forgiveness, and learning what true repentance looks like, made possible because of the mercy and love of Christ who offers no condemnation. This is a beautiful and powerful truth.

  2. Teresa Bird July 23, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    In Romans 8:1 it says ” There is therefore now no comdemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” KJV. It's interesting that in many versions of the Bible it doesn't include “who walk not” but ends with a period after Christ Jesus. After Paul gives a detailed explaination of how to follow the Spirit, it is sad this is excluded in many versions. Worldly sorrow doesn't come from the Holy Spirit but from the flesh. To repent we must follow the Spirit as Paul says in Romans 8:6 ” For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Thank you Wendy for your depth of understanding of the scriptures and with this post!

  3. Wendy July 23, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Thank you, Anna. I recognize it because I've lived it and been paralyzed by it at many points in my own life. 🙂

  4. Sean Rice July 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    Wendy, you don't actually mention how Mark Driscoll is practicing worldly sorrow. You state that he is, and then you define the difference between godly and worldy sorrow (and refer to a book you've written), and then state again that you believe Driscoll's sorrow is worldly, but there aren't any concrete examples of how he is being unrepentant or ungodly. For all I know, you're just stating an impression that you get because you don't like the guy. Could you be more specific?

  5. Amy Simmons July 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I just finished watching the video. I may be a bit obtuse, but I didn't see worldly sorrow. I get that he comes across as self-assured and even arrogant, but I see that as a part of his personality, not really his spiritual condition. He seems to be seeking to make amends for whatever offenses he's caused and that's really all he can do. It just seems to me that people are so adamant to find fault with him, so no matter what he does he's can't win. I don't know, that's just my observation.

  6. Wendy July 23, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    Sure, Sean. He didn't repent. Therefore, it can not be godly sorrow according to the Apostle Paul.

  7. Wendy July 23, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks for commenting, Amy. Mark hasn't in any form named his sin or repented of it. Naming sin specifically is an important part of repentance according to Mars Hill's own Redemption Groups. According to the Apostle Paul, repentance is the key that distinguishes godly sorrow from worldly sorrow. Mark has not in any way met the definition of Biblical repentance.

  8. kelsey July 25, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Hey Wendy! Please do not take this comment in any hard way at all. I am a 25 year old nurse who has been following your blog since my sophomore year of college. I got through nursing school with God using your awesome gift of sharing the gospel with such conviction. I just wanted you to hear it from an outside perspective of someone who does not attend Mars Hill. I am familiar with Mark Driscoll and have read his books, but I have my own opinion about people. I do not know exactly what is going on at Mars Hill, but I can say that I miss greatly your passionate writings that directly point to Jesus, and have such application to my life. I sometimes get dissapointed when its another blog about what Pastor Mark has done wrong. I miss WENDY!! You have such a beautiful way of putting things and I love hearing it. I want to challenge you to know there are girls my age who read your blog and truly admire you. I don't know. Just wanted to tell you. I still think they are meaningful blogs including Mars Hill politics, but I live in GA and follow you along with my small group girls. Thanks for doing your blog. I think you are wonderful.

  9. Anonymous July 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    let us never give up saying to one another… let us walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desire of the flesh for the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that we may not do the things that you please; the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law; now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires; if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

    May the Lord being helping us, each and together, be more like Jesus even this day.

  10. Wendy July 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Kelsey, I've wrestled with this fact at most of the last few posts. Most of my understanding of the gospel that has blessed women in this blog came from processing the weights put on me by the twisted teaching I got at Mars Hill (mostly saying the right thing but living it out in completely wrong ways). And that was where my first ministry was — leading women at MH. I know many women impacted at MH and still see them as the foundation of the current ministry I have. I want to move on, and yet, in many ways they are my closest spiritual family. I imagine I will write a few more posts on this subject in the coming months before I can move on. But I struggle too with the focus.

  11. kelsey July 26, 2014 at 2:13 am #

    thanks for your honestly. I've been really encouraged by you over the years. Just know that I'm all the way in FL and read you 🙂 You're honest, raw, and cool. Do yo thang. 🙂 blessings.

  12. Wendy July 26, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    Thank you for that encouragement, Kelsey. It means a lot to me!

  13. Imogen July 26, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Wendy, Are you seeking reconciliation?

  14. Wendy July 27, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    That was tried about 6 years ago. In person. We are not anonymous either. 🙂

  15. Curious Thinker July 27, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    Good explanation between godly sorrow vs worldly sorrow. However, I'm a little confused to what you mean that Pastor Mark Driscoll hasn't repented simply by not naming his sin. I don't believe in order to repent you have to confess your sin to others. That's a choice but not really required. You repent once you received Jesus Christ by your faith. There doesn't need to be any tasks you have to perform to be forgiven for your sins just embracing the Lord and he will bless your with forgiveness. I learned more about this from reading a book by Pastor Joseph Prince “The Power of Right Believing”. It's a great book with good insight. Still great post.

  16. Imogen July 27, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    6 years is a long time ago, God will have been working on Mark's heart in those years. It seems from Mark's video it would be worth seeking reconciliation again, even if you don't think he's yet repented he is clearly open to conversation.

    We don't just try once for reconciliation, get knocked down, and then not try again.

    'If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.' Romans 12:18

    And regarding anonymity, I'm sure many people are anonymous to Mark Driscoll's because his preaching has reached and influenced people like me living in the UK. We are technically the 'anonymous'. I think he is referring to those influences by him, perhaps hurt by some of his teaching, yet he's no means of contacting all the anonymous.

    Yet, even if you think Mark should have contacted you personally, because your not one of the anonymous people, if you think he should clearly know you are part of the hurting party, then that isn't an excuse for not seeking him out, particularly now.

    Seek reconciliation (again!) Wendy.

  17. Imogen July 27, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    And just to add, if you truly don't think he is repentant then surely you think he will likely continue on the same path and therefore carry on hurting people? Don't you want to do what you can to try and stop that? You have quite an opportunity on your hands to influence the situation for good by seeking him out, even just for a conversation. You might not have hope that he's going to repent but at least you'd have an opportunity to speak into his life and the situation now that he is open to those conversations.

  18. Anonymous July 27, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Curious Thinker: interesting your conclusion about what godly sorrow would have one do, thinking it more in the way of oldness of the letter than the newness of the Spirit? ..

    if there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, let us make one another’s joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose

  19. Anonymous July 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    and …thinking along with you Curious Thinker, it is a very small thing to be examined by another or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself for I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One who examines me is the Lord who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

  20. Anonymous July 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    and ….also thinking though we are reading some places God’ truths are not necessarily true, properly understood, they are ALWAYS TRUE, especially first for me and then also for each one … so let us not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows- sowing either to the flesh or sowing to the Spirit ,this he will also reap- in some way either destruction (John 10:10 or life (John 10:10b)

  21. Wendy July 28, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Imogen, Mark has been and is being confronted privately. He's been confronted privately, publicly, by individuals, and by groups, all without specific acknowledgement or understanding of his sin.

  22. Imogen July 31, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I realise that, but have you tried for reconciliation now? Are you trying now?

    You've probably read this, but I think this is a more edifying approach to looking at what has and is happening.


  23. Wendy July 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Yes, about 100 of us are trying now. Except that we are out of things to try. Honestly, your repeated responses are hurtful. They feel very minimizing to those of us who have been trying for years but just keep getting thrown under the bus with each effort. If you think I can email or call Mark (I can't — it goes to a handler) and set up an appointment to talk through these things with him, you don't understand the phenomenon Mark has become.

  24. leslie August 1, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as a pagan… it truly gives me no pleasure to say this, but I absolutely think it applies to mark driscoll at this point.

  25. Imogen August 1, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    I don't intend to hurt feeling I just wanted to urge you to keep trying. I do think your blog has been taken over by this topic and because of that I feel there is quite a bitter note running through what is otherwise wonderful insight and theology.

    Perhaps I don't understand the full picture, in fact I'm sure I don't. That is one reason for you to tread very carefully around this topic and choose carefully what approach to take. I do not feel you've done that though, I do not feel your bold posts are of an edifying nature, and on a further note it is quite simplistic to define Mark Driscoll as a 'phenomenon'.